Arizona school voucher programs struck down

Chris Rizo Mar. 25, 2009, 1:14pm

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline) - The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that two school voucher programs are unconstitutional, rejecting an argument by state Attorney General Terry Goddard.

The state's high court ruled that the voucher programs, aimed at offsetting the cost of private school tuition for foster children and disabled students, are illegal because it directs public funds to private schools.

"These programs transfer state funds directly from the state treasury to private schools," Justice Michael Ryan wrote for the court. He added that the constitutional prohibition against using public money for private schools is unambiguous.

"The framers plainly intended that Arizona have a strong public school system to provide mandatory education," Ryan wrote.

Under a 2006 Arizona law, the programs provide cash grants in the form of payment warrants to parents who sign them over to private schools where their children are enrolled.

Goddard filed a petition on behalf of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who wanted to reinstate the state-funded scholarships.

The Democratic attorney general lawyers from the Institute for Justice, which is representing several families that use the special vouchers, had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a May appeals court ruling that said the program was illegal because gave taxpayer money to benefit private schools, churches and public service corporations.

The two school voucher programs are used by fewer than 500 parents, officials said. Both programs have a $2.5 million funding cap.

Funding for the programs were not included in the current state budget, drafted by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, who opposes school vouchers.

The case is Cain v. Horne CV-08-0189.

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